Living with Fear: The Mind of an Attachment Challenged Child

by Bryan Post

Imagine that this is what is going on in many of our extra-ordinary children's minds/feelings. Try to understand that this is what their behaviors are saying. I repeat often but never enough, “it is not the behaviors” that we should seek to control but the “emotional state” that we should seek to soothe and support. Behaviors are the results of the emotional state.

 I may struggle to trust other adults for the rest of my life simply because I've associated other people with fear and abandonment from my earliest moments. I don't trust that anyone can meet my needs or keep me safe. My earliest imprints tell me that the best way to survive is by taking care of myself and not letting someone else take care of me.

All this happens at my unconscious level, that is, at the level of physiology and brain chemistry. When I move into that fear state, my cortisol and adrenaline surge and my amygdala goes into high alert. This overloads the ability of my thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), to correctly evaluate what's really going on. However, the PFC doesn't usually just give up. Instead, it tries to explain this surge of emotion. Instead of thinking, "This situation has reminded me of the time when I was a baby and my mother went away," it decides, "This person has said something so hurtful and hateful that I have to push him away and make sure he never comes back." This explains those troubling moments in a relationship when one person says something innocent and the other becomes furious.

In Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children, psychiatrist Bruce Perry explains that, in times of stress, we revert to our developmental zones of comfort. Another way to say this is that when you stress, you regress. This happens to everyone, whether or not we were maltreated as kids. So a lot of times, when we become stressed, we're not adults anymore. We're adolescents or we're two-year-olds, or we're infants. Unfortunately, this happens not only when we interact with other adults. When your child gets stressed, she may regress to two years old. If this stresses you out, you may respond as your two-year-old self. No wonder it spirals into all-day tantrums.

Choose Love…and Peace will Follow,


Bryan Post is a best-selling author, child behavior expert and consultant, internationally recognized speaker on challenging behaviors and attachment issues, adoption and trauma, and founder of The Post Institute for Family Centered Therapy. To learn more about Parenting Challenging Children, Oxytocin the Love Hormone, Mindfulness, and How to Thrive instead of just survive as an adoptive or foster parent,  visit, and, To find out more about Bryan Post’s ground breaking parenting program Parenting Attachment Challenged Children “Hands-On” Home Study Course visit www.postinstitute.comAattachment Disorder. Join our Facebook page for daily parenting help and inspiration, videos, articles and contests along with other parents and professionals just like yourself. Also visit our Blog at


  1. I do believe all of this as I see my son struggle through and we as parents! Just wondering if you know of any attachment camps in Ontario or near the US border of Toronto/New York.

Leave a Reply